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coworker keeps complaining he didn’t get promoted, my boss increased our work sevenfold, and more — Ask a Manager

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My coworker keeps complaining he didn’t get promoted — but it’s his own fault

I’m a project manager for a small engineering firm (12 employees). Due to our size, I’m involved with all aspects of the business, including staffing.

The engineer with the most seniority, Roman, has just been passed up for a promotion to become the lead engineer and the firm’s owner has hired from outside the company to fill the role.

A year or so ago, he had approached the owner and asked to be made the lead engineer, and the owner gave him a list of things to work on to be considered for the role. Roman was not successful in fulfilling the requirements; he is technically proficient but lacked the proper soft skills. Roman is now very upset that he has lost out on the promotion and he keeps coming to me and asking me questions (“What did I do wrong?”) and frequently talking to me about it (“I know I’m not perfect, though I guess I didn’t think my lack of perfection would result in a bit of a demotion, even though I acknowledge I wasn’t technically considered a lead at any time”). It’s making me uncomfortable.

He is now saying that it’s unfair that the owner never told the whole team that Roman was looking to move into the role of a lead, so therefore the team never respected him as a leader.

I feel stuck between giving him honest feedback and just hearing him whine and complain. I want to keep the peace so I keep letting him just talk at me, but I’m growing impatient because his ideas on team leadership (total control over how the entire engineering team works) and his general lack of soft skills are making me want to be brutally honest. Should I just let him keep complaining at me and hope it blows over soon?

If part of your job is to manage Roman or give him feedback, then you really need to be direct with him about why he wasn’t selected for the job and the specific things he’d need to change to be considered in the future. But I’m guessing that if that were part of your job, you would have already done that. So assuming it’s more of a peer situation … it’s really up to you. Some people wouldn’t want to get involved at all, figuring it’s Roman’s boss’s job to talk about this stuff with him and you’re not obligated to say something that risks drawing his resentment over to you. If that’s the case, you can still try to shut down his complaints by saying something like, “I know you’re upset but I’m not the right audience for this. If you want to talk about it, you should talk to (boss).” And if he keeps complaining to you after that: “You should talk to (boss), not me.”

But if you’re willing to give him some honest feedback, it could be a kindness to say, at a minimum, “Look, (boss) gave you a list of things you’d need to work on to be considered for the role. If you want to know why you didn’t the job, it’s those things.” And if you’re really willing to get into it: “The team hasn’t looked to you as a leader because of the issues (boss) talked to you about and and things like (insert soft skill specifics); it wasn’t because they didn’t know you wanted the job.”

But either way, you don’t need to let him keep complaining at you.

2. My boss is doing 27 events next month … the average is 4

I work in a public-facing job where a part of our job is setting up events for the public (but that’s not all we do.) I have a new boss (to the location, not position) who has major issues with work life balance. She’s constantly staying late to do extra events that one person asked for that she can’t say no to. She brings her work home, a practice discouraged by everyone at our location, and once told me that she likes to stay busy so she won’t be “left alone with her thoughts.” It has slowly built until I realized that next month she has a whopping 27 events! She regularly has 2-3 events in a day. She has other aspects of the job that are starting to get overlooked, including being the manager to our department, which is me and two new people still being trained.

I’ve been told that telling her to do less is 1) above my pay grade or 2) not my problem as it’s her work-life balance at stake. I considered that, but I work on the marketing for these events and it adds to my plate greatly with this number of events. Also, the two new people are already struggling with finding their own place outside just assisting her with her projects. Finally, it’s hard to rely on her as a manager when I look for her and she’s always in an event.

I’ve broached the issue lightly to test the waters, asking to put a cap on a maximum number of events per month, and she asked if I felt like I had too much on my plate. I said we just need to get through the month and would like a further conversation after the busy week ahead of us. How do I start this conversation and what points do you think will help her cut back? I also worry this will set a bar for the public that will make it hard to lower if they’re expecting multiple events a day.

Yeah, you don’t really have standing to tell her to do less or to address her work-life balance (although it does sound messed up). But you definitely have standing to talk about the impact it’s having on your own workload and stress level — and it sounds like she has explicitly invited that.

For example, you could say: “Traditionally we’ve done four events per month, and that’s been a good number because it’s left room for other prioritizes like XYZ. But we’re doing seven times that many next month, which means I don’t have the time I need for XYZ.” Ideally you’d talk in specifics here — you’ve had to push back X, Y has been delayed for weeks, the only way you met the deadline for Z was by working over the weekend, etc.

That said, be prepared for the possibility that she might prioritize events in a way her predecessor didn’t, and that could be her call to make. But if that’s the case and the increase interferes with you being to do other parts of your job, then you need to have a workload conversation — since if she wants you to do X additional events every month, then presumably it means other work needs to be pushed back or cut entirely.

Unless you’re in a fairly senior role where you have some responsibility for training/managing the two new hires, I wouldn’t get into your observations about the impact on them, at least not until you have a better sense of her response to the first set of concerns. Start with the pieces affecting you and see how that goes.

3. Meeting a nanny on her first day

My husband, infant, and I (she/her) are all living at my parents’ house while my husband and I try to sell our condo. Every adult works full-time, but my husband is a teacher and hasn’t been working over the summer, so he’s been the full-time childcare. We have a nanny that’s starting soon and is working 8 am – 4 pm from my parents’ house (and eventually our new place when we sell). We are very lucky to have our current arrangement — my Mom watches the baby Mondays and Tuesdays, and the nanny is Wednesday through Friday.

Over the summer, I pick up a very part-time second job in our religious community. My husband starts school on a Wednesday, the nanny’s first day. On that day, I have a non-negotiable commitment at this second job that will mean I’m out of the house from 6 to 9:30 am … so I won’t be there when the nanny is supposed to be there! My mom can stick around the house until the nanny gets there, but my Mom is understandably uncomfortable since she hasn’t had any contact with the nanny herself. On the other hand, the nanny is going to be in my mom’s house, so they’re going to see each other eventually.

My mom suggested having the nanny come in the day before (Tuesday) so she can see the house, but the commute is not insignificant for the nanny, and she won’t normally be working Tuesdays anyways. How do we handle the nanny’s first day in a way everybody is comfortable with?

I’m not totally clear on how your mom is comfortable having the nanny in her house all day, but not comfortable greeting her when she first arrives … but can you solve this by just having your mom and the nanny meet on a video call before her first day? If for some reason that’s not a solution, would the nanny be up for coming by the week before she starts if you pay her to do it? (I agree it’s not reasonable ask her to make a long commute otherwise, but if you pay her to do it, she might be up for it — although it’ll of course depend her availability that week.) The other option would be having her start late on her first day, so that she doesn’t arrive until you’re back from your morning appointment … but hopefully a video call could solve all of this.

4. Is it worth to submit a resume to a “general talent pool” without a specific opening?

I’m applying to jobs, and I’ve noticed that about half the company job pages I see either have a posting for “general interest” or a flag saying something like, “Don’t see a job that matches your qualifications? Click here to submit an application to our talent pool.”

Is it worthwhile to do this? Does anyone ever get considered or hired out of these kinds of applications? If yes, how would you recommend tailoring the resume and cover letter — particularly if you have a broad skill set and/or are willing to consider multiple types of positions?

It happens occasionally, but less often than those instructions make it sound.

If you have an unusual or hard-to-find skill set, submitting a “general interest” resume is more likely to pay off the next time they’re looking for someone with those skills; in that case they’re more likely to go back to past applications to see if anyone already in their database of candidates might be a good fit. If your skill set is less specialized or easy to find, they’re more likely to just advertise the job the standard way and might never even look at past applications.

In any case, there’s no harm in doing it if you can do it quickly, but I wouldn’t invest significant time in crafting an application specifically for that type of listing.

5. Asking about training in an interview

I am job searching. One of the Very Bad Things that’s happened to me in the past when changing jobs is not getting adequate training for the new job after being hired. This makes me wonder if it would be appropriate to ask about the company’s training during an interview.

Absolutely! You could say, “Can you tell me what the training will look like for this position?” or “What has training typically looked like for this position?” You can also ask how long it usually takes before someone is up to speed, and where new hires typically run into challenges.


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